It seems to me that I’ve told this story somewhere before but I can’t find it, so I guess that I’ll tell it. Again, perhaps.
After a few days at our conference in Tehran, some of us Westerners began to think about Sunday’s coming program. It was crammed full of meetings. No time set aside for religious observance.
I was the only Latter-day Saint in the group. (Heck, for all I know I was the only Latter-day Saint in all of Tehran at that time, or in Iran as a whole.) But several of us were religious, and we didn’t like the idea of missing Sunday services altogether. Moreover, we thought it important to send our Iranian Shi‘ite Muslim hosts a message, that not all Westerners are godless amoralists.
So we asked the Foreign Ministry people whether there was any way for us to attend church. No, they said. The Sunday program was too full. Well, we asked, how would you feel if we were to host a program and to schedule meetings solidly through the Friday noon prayer? Oh, they replied. We see your point.
So they eventually arranged for a van and driver to take us on Sunday to a small expatriate Catholic church on the other side of Tehran (which is a very large city).
When we arrived at the church, the priest (a Spaniard, as I recall) was thrilled to see us. He was especially happy that one of our number was Father David Burrell. The people in his congregation, he said, were so sick of him. Would David be willing to celebrate mass in his place? So David found some suitable vestments and officiated. Several in our little group were Catholics, so they felt right at home. Two, I think, were Episcopalians. This was pretty familar to them, as well.
I found myself seated in the back of the church, alongside the young Iranian Foreign Ministry employee who had come as our escort. Early on, he leaned over and confided to me that this was the very first time that he had ever been inside a Christian church. Could I possibly explain to him what was going on? So I did my best.
I remember thinking at the time how funny it was to have a Latter-day Saint providing a running commentary on the Catholic mass to a Shi’ite Muslim in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran.